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Author Q&A With Sad Puppy Brad Torgersen

Meet Brad Torgersen, Army veteran, SF writer, and all around good guy. Since he took on Sad Puppies this year, and had his first novel,. The Chaplain’s War, accepted and published by Baen, we thought it good to ask him a few questions.

What first attracted you to SF?

When I was very young, I became captivated by television programs like the original Battlestar Galactica, and the Americanized Japanese anime adaptation Battle of the Planets.  Neither one of these programs had much actual science included in the scripts, but they were engaging, visually enthralling, filled with adventure, featured cool spaceships, and told wonderful stories about bold heroes and dastardly villains.  Just the sort of stuff guaranteed to enthrall me at that age.  Perhaps not coincidentally, I was also watching a lot of PBS at the time, and stumbled across Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series.  Which I watched avidly.  So I gained an appreciated for both science fiction stories, and science itself; or at least the universe as revealed by science.  From that point forward, I continued to have a strong affinity for SF television, movies, literature, and scientific fact.  Eventually I grew to have a special liking for SF that was distinctly informed by real-world science – what’s typically labeled “hard” Science Fiction.  Not because it’s hard to read, but because this specific brand of SF tries very hard to play according to the rules.  Suggesting real futures that might come to pass, because the physics and chemistry is entirely consonant (or at least mostly consonant) with what we know to be true in our time.

What made you decide to write it?

I dabbled in fan fiction (Star Trek and Mad Max) when I was in high school.  But I didn’t really get serious about my own original work until I was invited to pen some scripts for a little home-spun SF radio serial then airing (in 1992) on KRCL-FM in Salt Lake City.  The show was called Searcher & Stallion and was the story of a kind of futuristic ronin samurai, wandering the galaxy, having adventures, righting wrongs, and searching for his lost history.  It was while writing for Searcher & Stallion that I came upon the works of Larry Niven for the first time.  At some point during the winter of 1992-1993, I looked at the Larry Niven book in my hand, and the dot matrix printouts of my Searcher & Stallion scripts, and I wondered: how much harder would I have to work, in order to be a “for real” author, like Larry?  The answer was: pretty damned hard!  But with a lot of practice, and more than a little heartache, I finally made it to “entry level” proficiency, and officially began following in Larry’s footsteps, in the pages of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine.

Who’s your favorite author and why?

Of all the authors I’ve enjoyed—Stephen R. Donaldson, Orson Scott Card, W. Michael Gear, A.C. Crispin, Diane Duane, Chris Bunch & Allan Cole, Kim Stanley Robinson—I think I have to top my hat to Larry Niven.  When I “found” Larry in late 1992 he was utterly unknown to me, though he had been publishing and winning awards for over 20 years.  His particular kind of SF (Hard SF) sent a lightning bolt through the creative side of my brain.  I’d never seen an author so cleverly and entertainingly weave very enjoyable stories, using very practical and close-to-the actual science, as well as scientific theory.  I devoured the omnibus editions N-Space and Playgrounds of the Mind in a six-month period, and felt forever changed by the experience.  I eventually went on to buy and read about 80% of Larry’s total lifetime output; as an author.  He is the largest—albeit, hardly the only—influence on my own storytelling.

What is it like to suddenly find yourself writing for a major house like Baen?

I’d had my eyes on Baen since 1993, when I picked up a copy of the first Man-Kzin Wars volume.  I didn’t yet know the somewhat turbulent history of SF publishing at that time.  But I felt any publisher willing and eager to do Man-Kzin Wars might suit my own output as well.  I didn’t yet know that it would be roughly 20 years before Baen mailed me an actual contract.  Had I known, I might have given up in despair!  It was a long, often disappointing, occasionally despair-filled journey, from hopeful aspirant, to publishing pro.  But by the time I was actually able to put a book in front of Baen publisher and chief editor Toni Weisskopf, I’d cut my teeth in the pages of Analog and Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show.  Like my hero Larry Niven before me, I brought a substantial track record in short fiction to the table.  Without that track record, I am not sure I’d have gotten the eager hearing I got at Baen.  Thankfully Toni is a hard SF fan, so my output matched well with her tastes, and the deal was done.  The days following the receipt of the offer and the signing of the contract, were rather heady.  Two decades of waiting and hoping, were finally yielding fruit.  I am proud to have joined the Baen roster.

Why did you take on Sad Puppies this year?

The short answer is that the original standard-bearer became ill, and was experiencing a bit of life turbulence.  The long answer is that I didn’t want to see the guidon fall.  With one champion beginning to fall out, I ran up there and grabbed the guidon, and marched to the head of the column.  Because while I do not enjoy the snarky negative criticism that’s directed at Sad Puppies by snobs, old guard conservatives in the field, and new guard activists who want to push their own politics on SF/F, I believe very much that somebody ought to push back against certain trends that I find rather unsettling.  Namely, that the field’s chief-most award, is unknown to the great bulk of current and potential SF/F readers, and that it is not considered by most to be a marker of significant quality.  This was not true 20 years ago, and it certainly wasn’t true 40 years ago.  But it’s true now.  The Hugo has lost its crowd.  I’d like to see the Hugo returned to prominence.  But for that to happen, the selection process has to be turned on its ear.  Somebody (or many somebodies) have to be brave enough to rattle the Worldcon cage.

What do you think the biggest issue in SFF is currently?

Cart before the horse.  The stories which made the field explode, were all primarily stories of adventure and exploration.  Many of them had overt and covert political and social messages laced into the fabric.  But the message is the passenger, adventure and exploration are the vehicle.  Too many authors, and more than a few editors, have spent so long “inside” the field, that they’ve started treating message as the vehicle, and adventure and exploration as the passenger.  Which will undoubtedly satisfy a certain block of readers for whom message is paramount.  But that’s not how you support and keep a broad audience.  Many readers don’t enjoy being sermonized, even from a perspective with which those readers might be sympathetic.  Most readers simply want to be taken on a wild, amazing ride.  SF/F used to know how to do this very well in the 1970s and 1980s.  SF/F started to let itself be wooed to the academic/literary “message” side in the mid to late 1990s.  And now it’s time for the pendulum to swing back to the center; before the audience walks out entirely.

What is the purpose of Sad Puppies 3?

To make the Hugo awards live up to their reputation.  To force the awards selection process to be more inclusive of the field as a whole, including popular authors, or authors who’ve been successful, but were perhaps ignored in the past due to long-standing and rather antiquated biases in the very-small group of fans who regularly attend Worldcon and participate in the Hugo voting.  For the past five years especially, the Hugos have experienced the dramatic effects of social activists who’ve tended to treat the award like a football; dragging it toward authors and works these social activists believe should be spotlighted.  Sad Puppies is trying to drag the football back down the field, before SF/F disappears into its own navel, and becomes a tiny niche market for social studies departments and academic literary players only.  SF/F doesn’t need to chase the fool’s gold of acclaim and respect in academic or literary circles.  SF/F took over the world (beginning with Star Wars and never looked back!) and Sad Puppies is trying to remind Worldcon proper that the field is wide, the ranks of fans are deep, and the award deserves to regain its place as being actually representative of SF/F as a whole again.  Not just the tastes and fascinations of social activists, or literary snobs.

What’s next for you?

As always, I have short fiction projects aplenty to attend to.  More work due out for anthologies.  More stories for Analog and elsewhere.  Mostly importantly, though, I had a very nice business lunch with Toni Weisskopf back in February, and got the green light for two separate trilogy projects which will be consuming the bulk of my time through 2016, and perhaps beyond.  The first is a hard SF future history that mashes up elements of classics like Dune with books like W. Michael Gear’s Forbidden Borders, and Larry Niven’s Ringworld.  The second will be a quasi-fantasy alternative history.  Imagine that the Norse pantheon of old is real, as are the pantheons of many other tribes and peoples across the globe.  Imagine also that the descendants of Leif Erikson, driven south fron Vinland by the Frost Giants, must intermix and forge an alliance with the mound-building civilizations of Eastern North America.  Just in time to fight off the invasions from Spain, and the blood-sacrifice nations moving up from Central America, through the Southwest.  Swords, sex, sorcery, war, political intrigue, and rival gods all competing on a grand scale.  That’s a project I am tentatively calling Norse America, and I am just now digging into my research reading.  Of which there will be copious quantities, even before an outline is drafted and sent to Toni.  So, I obviously have my work cut out for me!

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